Bloomberg Scares Parents with 'Big Dairy' Conspiracy

By Alex Berezow, PhD — Jan 09, 2019
Bloomberg's recent hit piece on milk touches upon almost every sensitive issue that worries parents: food, school and their children. Toss in a conspiracy theory about "Big Dairy," and that's how Bloomberg came up with a fear-mongering headline, complete with a disgusting photo that is supposed to make readers feel queasy.
My child drank milk? No!!! (Credit: Storyblocks)

I must be psychic. (And before you ask, no, we aren't getting paid by the dairy industry.)

Last week, I wrote an article titled, "There's Nothing Wrong with Dairy Milk." The gist was simple: When I was a kid, milk was considered a superfood. But it really isn't because there's no such thing as a superfood. Milk is a healthy drink, but if you don't like it, you can get the nutrients it provides somewhere else. There's nothing magical about milk, but there's nothing wrong with it, either, despite recent attempts to demonize it.

Little did I know that Bloomberg had a hit job in the queue. And it touches upon almost every sensitive issue that worries parents: food, school, and their children. Toss in a conspiracy theory about "Big Dairy," and that's how they came up with this fearmongering headline, complete with a sort of disgusting photo that I suppose is supposed to make readers feel queasy:

Right off the bat, this has all the hallmarks of a propaganda piece, not serious journalism. The use of the pejorative term "Big Dairy," rather than "dairy industry," is meant to conjure conspiratorial images of fat cats (fat cows?) slapping each others' backs in smoke-filled (milk-filled?) rooms. In reality, the U.S. dairy industry is modestly sized, with about $83 billion in revenues. (Bloomberg says the industry is $200 billion but provides no source for the information.) To put that into perspective, Amazon brought in nearly $178 billion in revenue in 2017 all by itself.

The subheadline is every bit as deceitful. Its implication is that Obama-era school nutrition standards were somehow holy and righteous; thus, changing them must be dangerous and unhealthy. Is that true?

No. According to the article, the Obama administration's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act achieved the following:

The law directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rewrite the nutrition standards of the $13.6 billion National School Lunch Program for the first time in 15 years. The department soon required more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and lower sodium levels. Chocolate milk, if it was served, had to be fat-free. [Emphasis added.]

While requiring more fruits and vegetables and whole grains is fine, requiring lower sodium levels and fat-free chocolate milk is junk science. The relationship between salt and health status is weak and fuzzy. If anyone should worry about consuming too much salt, it's generally older people with high blood pressure, not children. And why on earth should children be forced to drink fat-free milk? There is literally nothing to support that policy.

The disinformation in the Bloomberg article keeps coming:

The shift has particularly unwelcome consequences for the one-third of American kids considered overweight or obese.

The implication, of course, is that milk and other dairy products will make kids fat. But that is drivel. The reason we are an obese society is because we eat too much and are physically inactive. Blaming dairy for causing obesity is like blaming Toyota for causing all car accidents. The Bloomberg journalists step in it yet again:

One widely publicized 2014 study by Swedish researchers, published in the BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, found that people who drank three glasses of milk a day—the amount of dairy suggested in U.S. dietary guidelines—had a higher risk of dying over 20 years than those who drank less than a glass.

Yikes. Slam dunk, right? Not quite. The very research the authors cited warned, "Given the observational study designs with the inherent possibility of residual confounding and reverse causation phenomena, a cautious interpretation of the results is recommended." The Bloomberg writers completely ignored that.

The One Thing Bloomberg Gets Right

The Bloomberg article botched pretty much all of the science. However, it did get one thing right: The political influence of the dairy industry means that it can essentially get subsidies from the government. (Of course, this is true of many, many industries.) Our philosophy at ACSH is to defer to the free market and local jurisdictions when possible. If we did that in regard to school lunches, then maybe it wouldn't be such a politically charged issue.


Alex Berezow, PhD

Former Vice President of Scientific Communications

Dr. Alex Berezow is a PhD microbiologist, science writer, and public speaker who specializes in the debunking of junk science for the American Council on Science and Health. He is also a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and a featured speaker for The Insight Bureau. Formerly, he was the founding editor of RealClearScience.

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